Years in the making, drop-tine buck and hunter finally meet with some incredible timing
Ask most any serious deer hunter about bucks they’ve shot in the past, and you’re likely to hear routine tales of some 10-pointer taken with a bow and arrow or a tricky rifle shot that downed a trophy 20 years ago. If you ask Clark County hunter Shawn Knudsen about his 2021 hunt, however, make sure to pay careful attention. This one’s a dandy.
Knudsen’s is a tale of a unique double drop tine buck, a pursuit that went on for years, and a circumstance at the time of the harvest that makes one ask, “You’re kidding. Really?” His story is true, and he has the witnesses and dozens of trail camera photos to back it up.
This story starts in the fall of 2018 when Knudsen and his brother-in-law, Travis Klonecki, both of rural Willard, saw something a bit odd on a trail cam photo. It was a shot of a yearling buck, a modest 6-pointer, but it had a unique feature on its still-developing rack.
“I noticed he had little nubs starting on the bottom,” Knudsen said. “We had a bunch of pictures of it but never thought anything of it.”
Knudsen hunts Clark County forest land in the Rock Dam area, and the place where he first saw the buck is about a mile and a half walk into thick cover. Not too many hunters get back that far, and Knudsen had no way of knowing if the buck survived the 2018 hunting season or the following winter. Not until the fall of 2019 did he see it again, on camera photos, now an 8-pointer with what he describes as “flyers.” The non-typical tines were now a few inches longer, and protruding outward.
Another year passed, and Knudsen and Klonecki continued to hunt the area and put up seven or eight cameras near corn and mixed bait piles. That third season is when the drop tine buck really started to get their attention.
“That’s when I really started getting a lot of history with this buck,” Knudsen said. “He’d be the first deer into the bait pile any time I baited.”
One early morning in bow season, Knudsen was in a tree stand and caught a glimpse of a shadow moving near another nearby stand. He checked a nearby camera with his phone, and sure enough, the drop tine buck -- now a 10-pointer had just passed the other spot.
Things were about to get even more interesting. One day while in the woods Knudsen ran into some other hunters, and they had news. They had put an arrow in the buck. They had dogs on the track and followed it for more than a mile, but no luck. That was probably it, Knudsen figured, the end of the story.
Not so fast. Just before rifle season, “All of a sudden he started showing back up on our cameras,” Knudsen said. “When they said they hit him, I didn’t expect to see him ever again. When he came back, I was amazed.”
Hopes were high to see the buck during gun season, but it wasn’t to be quite yet.
“He had a spot he was hiding in and he wasn’t leaving,” Knudsen said.
Two days after gun season, the story twisted tighter. On one of Klonecki’s cameras, there was the drop tine buck, but he was carrying something with him -- a half rack from another nice 9-pointer that was also frequenting the area. The bucks must have been sparring and the antler came off the 9-pointer, with one tine tip sticking the drop tine buck squarely in the eye socket. Trail cam photos show the buck carrying the extra antler, with blood streaming down its face from the eye wound. That was on Dec. 2, 2020, the last time it would be seen that year.
Come spring, Knudsen said the he was dying with curiosity over what had become of the deer.
“I wanted to go out looking for sheds,” he said, but with three kids and a job and life in general, “I just never did.”
Now comes the fall of 2021. Knudsen and Klonecki are also bear hunters, and did not get their cameras out for deer until mid-October.
“Lo and behold,” Knudsen said, “the first buck to show up was him.” The buck had regressed a bit in size, back to an 8-pointer, with a bit narrower antler spread.
“He went downhill,” Knudsen said, “but he gained more mass.”
For the rest of the fall of 2021, Knudsen went here while the buck went there.
“That deer played cat and mouse with me all year,” he said. “I’d sit in this stand and he’d come to that stand. I never saw it, but it showed up on cameras. He had to have been watching us come in and out.”
The area Knudsen was hunting is some 50-ish acres in size, with a good mix of mature oaks, fresh clearcut, and grown-over clearcut, “everything a deer needs to live on,” Knudsen said. With another rifle season coming, Knudsen thought he’d have a good chance of getting the drop tine buck, or maybe the other 9-pointer that had given up half his rack the year before. That one was showing up on cameras all fall, too.
During opening weekend, Knudsen and Klonecki were “just looking to get some meat” and took a spike buck. They hunted the spot some and made drives on other areas of county land with a group of seven or eight guys.
“On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving), we all decided we were going to go back there,” Knudsen said.
The first drive of the day kicked up a nice buck, but someone in the group missed the shot. On the second drive, a few does shook loose.
On the third push, Knudsen took three other standers with him and spread them out along a logging road. He stopped near one of his bow hunting stands, in the area where the drop tine buck had been hanging out for years.
The drivers started. A short ways in, Klonecki –– one of the drivers –– looked down and saw something peculiar. As he walked up to it, he knew immediately what he had found –– the antler shed from the drop tine buck from the previous winter, with the half-rack from the other 9-pointer still locked in. There it had lain all year, without so much as a mouse nibble.
Klonecki was thrilled. He couldn’t wait to finish the drive to show what he had found.
“Nobody’s topping this,” he figured. “I’ve got a piece to this puzzle.”
But wait. Just after Klonecki made his discovery, two other drivers yelled out. They had kicked up a big deer and it was headed for the line of standers.
Knudsen heard the holler, and saw movement, coming up along the edge of the clearcut.
“There’s a deer coming, what it is I don’t know,” Knudsen said. “He comes out to the trail and stops on the edge of the trail.”
Knudsen saw antlers, and fired a round from his .280. Some 60 yards away, the buck’s front legs buckled, and it chest-plowed across the trail. That’s when Knudsen knew.
“I pulled back up and I seen the drop tines coming down,” he said. He let out a whoop at that point, and on the other side of the drive, Klonecki knew what that meant.
The pair took a victory lap that day, visiting local watering holes to show the deer and begin to retell the story again and again. After so many years of watching the buck and then finding the shed at almost the same time Knudsen shot the deer makes for an almost unbelievable story, and Knudsen doubts he’ll ever have anything to top it.
“It’s not something you see every year ... or ever in your life,” he said. “Why he would stop on the edge of the trail like that, the stars finally aligned.”
The deer head is at a taxidermist’s shop now, with Knudsen still undecided over the exact mount he wants. It has to be something unique, he says, right down to preservation of scar over the eye wound.
There is one piece that might cost him. “Travis tells me the sheds that he found are gonna’ be very expensive to put with him,” Knudsen said.